Lonely Planet Writer

Therapy dogs are helping stressed out travellers at this US airport

Bradley International Airport in Connecticut has introduced furry friends to their terminals in an attempt to reduce traveller stress in times of busy commuting. The initiative was piloted earlier in the year with two Bright Spot Therapy Dogs teams – Sally King and James and Karyn Cordner and Raven – for six months while the airport assessed its effectiveness.

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The dogs bring smiles to passengers. Image by Cynthia Hinckley/Bright Spot
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The therapy dogs at work! Image by Cynthia Hinckley/Bright Spot

The airport and dog team are working together to promote this program to calm weary travellers while waiting to depart or coming off planes.

“We are in the process of training eight more teams, giving us a total of 10 teams visiting throughout the week at varied times. Training takes time,” Bright Spot’s founder and executive director Cynthia Hinckley told Lonely Planet.

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Dogs need to be trained before entering this environment. Image by Cynthia Hinckley/Bright Spot

“Dan Carstens, [the] Customer Service Program Specialist at Bradley who is in charge of our program, meets with each new handler first, familiarizes him/her with the airport so the handler can determine if his/her dog will do well in this environment with the other dogs there working in security, and the growing number of dogs accompanying their owners on planes. It’s a busy, noisy environment not right for every dog.

“Some therapy dogs do better in a quiet setting like a nursing home. If the handler feels it will work for him, the next session with Dan takes place with the handler and the dog where the teams demonstrate their skills in interacting with people in the public area of the airport. On a third session, Dan takes the team through security and down to the gates to mingle with travellers.”

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Who can resist these lovely furry faces? Image by Cynthia Hinckley/Bright Spot

“While the therapy dogs currently greet passengers a few times a week, it is our hope to have them visit the airport daily in the near future,” Kevin A. Dillon, A.A.E., Executive Director of the Connecticut Airport Authority told Lonely Planet.

“Thus far the feedback from our passengers has been overwhelmingly positive. In the brief time that the program has existed, the therapy dogs have already made an impact on our passengers, many of whom write to us expressing their gratitude for the program.  At Bradley International Airport, we want our passengers to love the journey, and this is a great example of our continuous efforts to enhance our passenger’s journey through the airport and one that we’re very proud of.”

To participate in this program, the dog and handler must be certified through Bright Spot Therapy Dogs and meet the criteria to participate in this type of environment. The interaction is short but sweet and to-date, the initiative has been very well received by passengers and staff.